Planning Your Time
Canyonlands in One Day
Your day begins with a choice: Island in the Sky or Needles. If you want expansive vistas looking across southeast Utah's canyons, head for the island, where you stand atop a giant mesa. If you want to walk among Canyonlands’ spires and buttes, Needles is your destination. If you have a second or third day in the area, consider contacting an outfitter to take you on a rafting or 4X4 trip. Before venturing into the park, top off your gas tank, pack a picnic lunch, and stock up on plenty of water and electrolytes.
Island in the Sky
Make your first stop along the main park road at the visitor center to learn about ranger talks or special programs. Next visit Shafer Canyon Viewpoint, where a short walk takes you out on a finger of land with views of the canyon over both sides. From here you can see Shafer Trail’s treacherous descent as it hugs the canyon walls below.
Then drive to Mesa Arch. Grab your camera and water bottle for the short hike out to the arch perched on the cliff's edge. After your excursion, take the spur road to Upheaval Dome, with its picnic spot in the parking lot. A short walk takes you to the first viewpoint of this crater. If you still have energy, 30 more minutes and a little sense of adventure, continue to the second overlook.
Retrace your drive to the main park road and continue to Grand View Point. Stroll along the edge of the rim, and see how many landmarks you can spot in the distance. White Rim Overlook is the best of the scenic spots, particularly if you’re not afraid of heights and venture all the way out to the end of the rocky cliffs (no guardrail here). On the way back to dinner in Moab, spend an hour in Dead Horse Point State Park.
If you can stay overnight as well, then begin the day by setting up camp at Needles Campground or one of the other wonderful group camping areas in Needles. Then hit the Joint Trail, or any of the trails that begin from the campground, and spend the day hiking in the backcountry. Save an hour for the brief but terrific little hike to Cave Springs, and be sure to drive to the end of the park road to check out Big Spring Canyon Overlook. Sleep under countless stars.